The Peaks and Valleys of Mindful Movement
Couple mindfulness with movement, and you have an arrow that shoots true. I queried a few WNC women, and one from Utah, about their peak mindfulness experiences in the physical realm: yoga, mountain running, mountain climbing, singing, swimming, qigong, walking, dancing and building a house. I begin with my own experience of grief and relief.
Judith Toy, Black Mountain: There was an unforgettable moment after yoga class at Cheshire Fitness Club in Black Mountain—not long after the sudden death of our son. Toward the end of class, I always glow with physical relief. We were powering down. Seated in ugrasana, on the studio floor with split legs, we listened to soft music. Our teacher, Bambi Favali, had chosen the stunning Eric Clapton song, “Tears in Heaven,” about the accidental death of his young son. I could smell sweat and the moisture of the wooden floor beneath my mat. Then Clapton’s words: “Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven? Would you feel the same if I saw you in heaven?” Among 30 women, I lost it. I tried to sob quietly, but my grief was a river that could not be dammed. Suddenly, I felt the warmth of another body against my back, and arms encircling me. It was my classmate Buni Sutherland. Quietly, she had left her mat and sat down behind me with her outstretched legs encircling mine while I sobbed. Her chin rested on my shoulder and caught my tears. An hour of yoga combined with song and the love of a spiritual friend brought me a release that I had not felt since Jesse’s death.
Laura Myers, Greensboro: When I lived in Black Mountain, my sister’s husband and three of his fit male friends were planning a mountain hike at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. I asked to go along. The climb was so strenuous and so incredibly physical, that I thought I would not make it. But I kept going. At the top there was a rock scramble. I had never done a rock scramble. One of the guys noticed I was scared. He stayed behind to show me precisely where to put my foot and my hand and then my other foot and my other hand, and so on. During a bit more of a hike at the top, I was just glad to be alive. Before I knew it, I was at the summit of High Windy. We all cheered. I felt high from being high on the mountain. I did it!
Bonnie Grace Gilday, Black Mountain: Running meditation is where I get lost. I begin on pavement, with the pitter-patter of my feet. As I approach the leaf, rock and pine needle-covered trails, I leave behind everyday thoughts, and feel gratitude for my physical abilities as I push myself up the beautiful mountain trails. Regardless of whether my run is an hour or three hours, it always ends too soon. When my feet hit the pavement again, I think about how running brings out both my strengths and vulnerabilities. I smile about being here now, experiencing all of it, and know I am fortunate to have another chance to run again.
Bobbie Cleave, Utah: My favorite exercise is swimming. Water is the place that I feel held lovingly in my favorite earth element. I also love to walk and sing, which is what attracted me to the mindfulness teachings in the beginning, my teacher’s obvious love for the natural environment. For me, though, qigong is the best way to exercise and at the same time connect with the natural world. While qigong may not elevate the heart rate, it synchronizes my heart to the pulse of the earth—the most healing thing of all.
Maggie Schlubach, Black Mountain: I’m naturally hyper and energetic, so exercise is my outlet. Practicing yoga for 40 years, rarely do I have a peak experience anymore. But I attended a yoga teacher’s weekend recently with all yoga teachers—and me. It was almost unbelievable, my ability to keep up with all the younger ones. I had just turned 70, and the weekend required 6-8 hours a day of yoga. This felt really affirming—that all these years of doing yoga and meditation have paid off for me. It was hard, but wonderful to be challenged and to meet the test.
Teijo Munnich, Weaverville: I was studying a lot of dance, and had experienced the letting go that comes when I completely give myself over to the form and to the teacher. In order to perform a dance, I had to first learn the steps. After memorizing them, the flow of the dance began to emerge. At this point, my resistance came up. I did not have a total picture of the dance, but through the steps and the flow I had a sense of accomplishment which seemed to be enough. I was weary, and there was nothing more to do. Sometimes I even felt that going further would be beyond my abilities. The next part of the process was to continue dancing, to go beyond that resistance and exhaust it. At that point, I became the dance and was danced. There was no longer any effort. And the dance was perfect.
Korey Hampton, Marshall: To save money and to be close to the process, my husband and I decided to build our own house. Having no idea of the weight of the question, I casually asked my builder Dad, “Wanna help me build a house?” We bought the first round of supplies and it came time to put together the forms for the foundation—the first chance to bang a nail, the ceremonial first action. Dad asked if I’d like to do the honors. I took a swing at the nail. He looked at me and said, “I have to show you how to bang a nail, huh?” We thought we’d have our house six months, maybe a year out. Six years later, we’re still building. But there’s a mindfulness to it. Now I know the journey is our destination. And I’ve bonded with my dad. He glows, able to share his skills with me. And do I know how to bang a nail.
Besides writing, Judith Toy practices yoga and mountain hiking with her dogs. She is author of Murder as a Call to Love, A True Story of Transformation and Healing, available at www.murderasacalltolove.com. Toy and her husband lead mindfulness and meditation at Cloud Cottage Sangha in Black Mountain. Judith will be at the Blue Ridge Book Fest in Flat Rock, May 18-19, and will lead the NC Council of Churches Earth Sabbath in Asheville the evening of May 21. Call 828-669-0920 or write email@example.com for more information.